I landed in Marseille knowing almost nothing about this city: I very rarely plan my travels. I like to be surprised and anyway the first thing I do to get a feel of a new place is just to walk through it – and possibly get lost. So when our 6:00am flight from Brussels landed in Marseille at about 8:30 in the morning this is what I already knew:
- it is a dangerous city according to my mum (although she has never visited);
- word has it that it’s very vibrant and interesting from a street art point of view, and
- that Bouillabaisse is a typical dish I should try (advice from my house mate).
Fortunately, I spent my 29 hours discovering Marseille with two friends who had a very similar idea of what a quick visit of a city should look like. We walked, then walked some more, and finally we walked a few more steps. Without any pressure and allowing plenty of time to take pictures or enjoy a coffee.
We walked through the ‘Panier’ district: filled with small streets on top of a hill. All the businesses have some kind of individual sign or decoration, which makes you want to go ‘oh, this is so cute!’ at every stride. The narrow streets are also covered in street art: from paper cuttings to graffiti. Every corner hides a small surprise and you need to keep your eyes wide open so as not to miss anything.
After pointing at every little piece of art like excited kids on a trip to Disneyland, we climbed down a long flight of steps to reach the ‘Vieux Port’ district. This was probably the least interesting area we visited because it’s more touristy and commercial. However, the fresh fish market was a very interesting and unusual sight and so were the several carpenters we saw working on damaged boats. The Opera building is definitely disappointing if you ask me, it looks almost fake!
We had a quick stroll through the lower part of the ‘La Canebière’ district which makes you feel like you’ve been suddenly thrown into a north African city. Food and spices tell a totally different story from the big brand shops just a couple of streets over.
Naturally, we had to go see the famous view from the Notre Dame de la Garde cathedral. The view is actually breathtaking, especially around sunset and thanks to the clear blue sky we were lucky enough to have. But – and it’s a very personal ‘but’ – I honestly abhorred the statue on top of the church: so kitsch!
Our very favourite district was the ‘La Plaine’. Luckily that was where our hotel, the Premiere Classe, was located. Filled with alternative bars and little vintage boutiques, the streets are completely covered in art, not a centimetre is left to the original boring grey paint. It’s very nice for evening activities and the atmosphere is fresh and young.
The best discovery of the evening was the ‘L’Equitable café‘: a nice big bar with good cheap drinks and an extremely laidback atmosphere. They offer free wifi, games, concerts, an area for kids to play, several books to read and a ‘free market’ with clothes and other items. It’s worth spending some time here.
In the short time we had left the following morning, we explored the ‘Belle de Mai’ district. This is a normal working class area with a very interesting tunnel: an art project with photography and messages from citizens, and a second installation around the theme of wishes but this time with metal hands where the different sentences where carved in.
All in all Marseille is feasible in a couple of days and a very interesting city to visit, where each district seems to have its own character and a very different feel.